Country-wide WiFi review

I took a bunch of flights a couple weeks back and thought I’d be able to enjoy my downtime between flights catching up on email and reading the web. Since I don’t know of any central site that tracks such things (is there a “geek airports” list with availability and price, like the geek hotels site?), here were my findings:

San Francisco (SFO) – New media business capital of the world and no wireless.

Chicago (ORD) – The business capital of the midwest, but not a wireless signal in sight.

Boston (BOS) – Major business city in New England, second only to New York City in the region, but nada on the wireless coverage in the terminals I sat in.

Austin (AUS) – Finally! Wayport access cost $5.95 for 24 hours of connectivity. Two years previous, it was free, but $5.95 ain’t bad and I got an hour’s use out of it.

Denver (DEN) – AT&T coverage through their “GoPort” service. A 24 hour connection costs $9.99. I had a few hours in Denver so I decide to do it, filling out this signup application, but I get a web server error upon submittal. I checked my credit card and wasn’t charged for the $9.99, but I did sit in Denver connection-free due to their app.

It kind of shocks me how few aiports offer wireless access, even though much of airline travel is business related. It’s an easy business model too, you just buy a $50/month DSL line and throw some base station hardware up for everyone to use, then start making 5-10 bucks a head, per day from customers. I also saw Microsoft tablet PC kiosks in Denver, as well as a booth hawking Intel’s new Centrino product. SFO also had a Centrino display, even though SFO doesn’t offer wireless access. It was interesting to see businesses such as Intel and Microsoft understand the value of engaging business travelers, even though the airports themselves do not (I also wondered, now that Google put money into Blogger, would they see value in selling blogs to business travelers in airports and why don’t they have kiosks in major hubs too?).

Last year while flying, I found only two other airports offering wifi access: San Jose (SJC) and Dallas (DFW). One other odd finding was paying $5.95 for wireless at one wayport-equipped airport (austin), then having a stopover in Dallas (also covered by wayport) required a separate $5.95 account, even though I was within the 24 hours originally purchased.

As a complete aside, I noticed on my six flights that I was surrounded by giner ale drinkers. Sure, once in a while I run into someone that loves fresh ginger, or I find a non-cola drinker that insists on it, but my rowmates on four of the flights were drinking it. Everyone was asking for it. The staff was running out of it. People were getting testy when they went without it.

The data’s a bit of an outlier, and I have the feeling I missed some trendster proclaiming it as the miracle drink du jour. So what’s the deal with it? Is it the new Atkin’s Brau? The favorite juice for sugarbusters? Did Oprah plug it as one of her favorite products out of the blue?

Marketers take note

One thing I can’t get out of my mind as we approach an impending war (in just 8 hours!) is the supreme display of marketing prowess on the part of the Bush Administration.

We were attacked by a rogue terrorist group on September 11, 2001. It seemed clear to me at the time that there would be a worldwide police action to find them and deal with them. It was six billion vs. a few hundred (a couple thousand, tops?). That wasn’t the approach however, and we ended up bombing Afghanistan in an attempt to kill all the operatives that were still in the country. Perhaps it was the cold war era leaders in the administration, but even though we were attacked by a terrorist group and not a country, we decided to limit our actions to a response in another country.

But here’s where the marketing comes in. We’re not sure if we got the one guy we were looking for. After a few months, this country seems to give up on getting him, but instead of discussing failure, the conversation is shifted. We now need to remove another dictator that has been problematic in the past. Without much in the way of evidence of current wrongdoing, and in some cases outright lying, the majority went along with it. Not only was the conversation shifted, it remains shifted and the administration is achieving the goals it clearly set out to accomplish.

I don’t know if you noticed, but this is huge. Imagine a marketing group saying that in 6 months, no one will talk about Google.com any more, we’ll all be discussing Teoma or All The Web for anything search related, even though they don’t have very many compelling reasons you should do so. Then imagine them pulling it off, and six months from now no one cares much for google.

Kudos to the Bush Adminstration for pulling off one of the biggest strokes of marketing genius I’ve ever seen.

Obvious questions no one seems to be asking

So if Saddam and sons do go into self-imposed exile today or tomorrow, does that mean there won’t be a war, and we’ll just toss in a new leader in his place?

I assume we’ll start bombing lots of suspected WMD facilities when the 48 hours are up. Since they’re our best guesses where weapons previously not found may reside, we’re going to be blowing up lots of stuff and making mistakes (they can’t all be WMD facilities). Anyone see a problem with that?

How do know when it is over? When Saddam’s body is found? When weapon storage areas are all blown up? What’s the goal of this action and why isn’t it clearly being communicated?

SXSW 2003

I didn't start out feeling gung ho about this year's south by southwest interactive festival, in fact I wasn't having that good of a time until the last day. Last year was fun enough, but I sort of felt that maybe the conference had been replaced by others.
While the market has been down for the past few years, it didn't seem to negatively affect SXSW too much in the past. It weeded out the stupid and the weak: no one talked of synergizing their sticky eyeballs after 2000. This year however, not only had the crowd of hucksters returned to the golf courses from whence they were created, but unfortunately so had many designers, writers, photographers, and bloggers. The crowds seemed smaller this year, and there were several designers that didn't choose to attend.
Friday night, I rolled into an amazing Austin evening. Watching the previous week's forecasts and seeing cold temps I thought the festival's theme might become "everyone in sweaters." A quick warm snap made this year as perfect in terms of weather as the past. But after settling into my hotel and catching up with pb after he arrived, we noticed a lack of peers in the area. While we missed the big event of the evening already, there didn't seem to be anyone else around. We had a quiet dinner with Andre and Dana, and afterwards noticed the Omni's lobby was totally dead. We got back to our hotel around 10:30 and the night was prematurely over. What happened the packs of 50 geeks roaming every nook and cranny of the city like in years past?
After getting the first long sleep and big breakfast in days, we caught the very end of the Kick event and I was happy to finally see everyone was here. Saturday's keynote broke the champagne on the boat for me and David Weinberger got up to share his common sensical long-range view of why the web matters, and it didn't disappoint. The convention space for panels seemed a bit smaller this year, with most rooms holding maybe 50 people, and a big room that could handle 150 or so. There were oodles of bloggers around, perhaps the decline in attendance was only in the professional sector. I can't remember seeing a lot of people sent by their workplace in the halls and presentation rooms.
Hugh and the gang seem to tweak their setup every year based on feedback and the new panel schedules worked pretty well this year. Most presentations were a short 60 minutes, with 30 min breaks in between. There were plenty of panels to see, though if I was pressed to share any downsides, the 30 minute breaks seemed a tad long when there were a string of panels I wanted to get through. I don't know if everyone would agree that 15 minutes was a better time, but although the breaks let me catch up with speakers after their talks, and take time to check email and write up notes in the hall, sometimes it felt like too long of a break (especially after the 2nd or 3rd one of the day). As always, there were times when I didn't want to see any panels and times three great things were happening at once, but there's not a lot that can be done to combat that kind of scheduling. At one point I thought "why doesn't Hugh ask some bloggers to look over the schedule to point out conflicts" thinking that we webloggers had our fingers firmly on the pulse of the conference, but then I remember attending Po Bronson's "What should I do with my life" panel. A condensed version that showed up in FastCompany a few months back rocketed to the top of daypop/blogdex and stayed there for a few days upon its debut, but Po's panel was only about 1/3 full when I would have predicted a packed house.
The subjects of panels themselves were for the most part interesting, though I noticed a lack of vision in many. My memory may be fuzzy, but I seem to remember the most exciting panels at SXSW (and any other tech conference for that matter) focused on what was next. Instead of looking towards the future, I felt far too many panels talked about the present. The theme of some panels (including my own) could be summed up as "This is how the world views weblogs (right now). This is what CSS is currently like. This is what it means to run a non-profit site (right now)."
The most interesting panels this year seemed to be all the non-technical panels that discussed social issues. The panel on how communities could deal with online deaths, Kevin Warwick's talk about his cyborg-ness, the Po Bronson reading about how to find ones purpose in life, and Bruce Sterling's panel on the future.
As usual, the social gatherings eclipsed anything the official conference sessions could offer, and the organizers did a good job steering attendees towards parties, open bars, and site launches. The Fray Cafe was a blast, and maybe it was due having an in-house bar. As the night wore on, people loosened up and got up on stage, probably due to the social lubricants available from the bar. The 20×2 event was a lot of fun. Hearing Dakota Smith play at the familyalbum.com party was a highlight. And it was the first time I made it out to Bruce Sterling's house party.
Like I mentioned earlier, this year's conference didn't really click until it was almost over. I think it was a combination of good panels (Po Bronson's morning panel asking the audience to think about their life's passions and Bruce Sterling's afternoon talk that looked into the wacky frontier of the future) and talking with new folks that brought me a bit out of my element. I got to see new creative projects people were working on. I got to feel a little out of place talking to people I barely had met.
While I didn't have any direct discussions or see any panels that discussed specific issues I faced, the environment of the last couple days in Austin sent my mind racing. I came up with a dozen new innovations for my personal website that I wanted to work on as soon as I got home. In the dead time between panels I came up with novel ways to optimize MetaFilter that hadn't occurred to me before. Seeing other people's projects spurred on a new idea for a photo essay. On the plane ride home I started writing what I hope will become my first story either performed or written for the Fray. I brainstormed ideas for a technology story I'd like to pitch to a magazine. After seeing digital video cameras everywhere, I came up with an idea for a short film I'd like to someday do.
I'm happy that I got to attend this year's SXSW. After days of panel discussions and nights filled with drinking and socializing, I came away rejuvenated and inspired to work on lots of new projects. In the crowds that only come together once a year, I found motivation and I've already begun to work on all the new ideas I got there. While the content of panels wasn't ground-breaking across the board, the conference itself has carved out a niche as a place for creative minds to gather and interact, and that's where I find the real magic lies.
Photos from this year's SXSW

Glasshaus no more?

The most recent post to Glasshaus’ site makes me think I won’t be getting any royalty checks anytime soon for this (I’m joking here, we were a couple thousand short on sales before that would happen anyway).

It was a cool outfit, they had good books and treated the authors very well. The weird part is they just asked me to contribute to another book a few weeks ago, but now they’re gone. I’ve heard from two sources that their parent company Wrox Press is broke, so all the publishing houses below them are gone as well.

Trackback from iTunes

Today I looked at my list of contacts in AIM and knew Jerry Kindall was the l33t applescript developer of the bunch. I showed him my previous post, went off to grab a burrito for lunch only to find a working script in my inbox upon return. I just tried it out and it’s working as I speak, with output identical to the winamp pings. The full instructions and applescript are included:
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Trackbacks in Winamp

You might have noticed that I show the current playing song from my mp3 player here on my site. What you don’t know is that I’ve been using a hack for the past few months. For Winamp, I used the DoSomething plugin to work through a local special template file which would create another local flat file with song info. I’d then ftp the output file to my server, which I loaded as an include. To get my mac to the same, I had to setup a similar program, and both hacks ended up constantly sending flat files to my server over insecure FTP. Kinda sounds like overkill, doesn’t it?

I kind of rushed to get this site’s new design online before the trip to Austin, and this past week at SXSW gave me about a bazillion more ideas for the site. I’m going to write up all the tech I used, how I built it, and why I did each part in a couple weeks when the site is more feature complete, but I wanted to give you a preview of what that’ll be like.

One of the ideas I got yesterday at lunch was using trackback on blogs to do Now Playing lists by just passing urls through mp3 players. I asked Ben and Mena a couple questions and they told me it was 10 minutes work. With a few clicks and copy/paste jobs, I just completed in a matter of minutes and it actually worked.

So Winamp is now sending trackbacks to my blog, and every time a new song comes on, a new ping goes out, and my site changes. Here’s how to do it in Winamp 2.x:
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